Disclaimer and rating - see first part.
Chapter 14: Pre-coronation celebration
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful and was spent preparing for the pre-coronation ball. Joseph was less than pleased about having to attend this event as a guest rather than an employee; but Clarisse had insisted.
Joseph looked very smart in his black tuxedo. Clarisse had given him a very appreciative review before she had disappeared into her dressing room to prepare for the evening. She emerged about a half hour later looking absolutely breathtaking.
“My dear…you never cease to take my breath away.” Joseph took in the sight of the woman he now called his wife as she twirled before him. She was radiant in a dark burgundy gown that complimented her fair complexion beautifully. The neckline in the front dipped tastefully low revealing just enough, but not too much. Her jewelry was a simple gold chain with a ruby, tear drop shaped pendant that hung right in the crevice where her cleavage began. Her matching earrings sparkled as they reflected the light around her. The crown she had chosen was a smaller one that had both rubies and diamonds encased in the intricate design. He smiled as his gaze traveled downward and noticed that she was wearing the shoes that Mia had returned to her earlier that day.
She smiled at his compliment and allowed him a moment to drink in her image before she walked over to him and put a matching rose in the lapel of his tuxedo. “There, now everyone knows we belong together and you are mine.”
He grabbed her and kissed her passionately until her lips were slightly swollen and her skin had flushed deeper to present a subtler shade of the dress she wore. He whispered huskily into her ear, “Now everyone will know that we belong together and you are mine.”
After she caught her breath, she touched his cheek with her hand, “We really need to have that honeymoon soon, don’t we, love?”
“You read my mind. Only a few days now, right?”
“Right. Shall we make our way to the dining hall for dinner?”
“You know this is not my idea of fun, right?” Joseph thought he’d try one last time to get out of this.
“Darling, I know you are used to being on the ‘other side” of the spotlight so to speak, but I promise to make it my personal mission to see that you have a wonderful time tonight. Will you trust me?”
“With my life, my love.” He offered her his arm as they walked out of the suite. He made a mental note that he still needed to speak to her about his dream from earlier today and ask about the paper that Philippe had passed her on the day he died.
Everyone was in good spirits as they enjoyed the wonderful feast that had been prepared. Clarisse had been true to her promise and ensured that Joseph was a part of her conversations and that the subject matter was of interest to him. He was amazed at her diplomacy and public relations skills as he watched her work her magic controlling every topic of conversation and the length of each as well.
He was just beginning to truly relax and enjoy himself when Shades tapped him on the shoulder and asked to speak with him privately for a moment. He quietly got Clarisse’s attention. “Do you mind, dear? Shades needs a moment to review a security matter. I know I’m technically off-duty tonight; but, the sooner all of these loose ends are tied up, the sooner we’ll be free to leave on that honeymoon, right?”
She smiled at him and quietly replied, “Alright, dear, but please don’t be long. We don’t want to make our guests wonder what has happened to you.”
He kissed her quickly on the cheek and excused himself from the table to stand next to Shades in a private, recessed area of the dining hall.
“What have you learned, Shades?” Joseph asked quietly.
“I’m still working on the background info and who his associates were during the time he was employed here before. I do know that he is no longer in the palace employ, but he is currently working for the catering company that has been contracted by the palace to host the coronation dinner tomorrow night.”
“Catering company? Why in the world would someone who has been personal assistant to the King and the Crown Princes be working in food service now?” Joe asked more to himself than to Shades.
“I have no idea, Joe. He seems to be a jack of all trades, if you ask me. He also spent some time in the automotive detail as well. Maybe he likes to try different things out?” Shades offered.
“Let’s go check on the progress of the background check. I’ll see what I can do to help so we can get this nailed down.” Joe started to walk towards the double door exit.
“Umm Joe? I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Shades touched his arm to stop him.
“And exactly why not?”
“Well two reasons: 1: I’m on duty and can’t just leave; and 2: I don’t think she will be pleased at all if you leave.” He nodded in the general direction of the Queen.
Joseph seemed torn. He knew Shades was right. Clarisse would not be pleased at all if he were to leave her alone at their first official function together; but that tingling sensation that served as a warning signal to him would not go away. He looked in her direction. She seemed caught up in a conversation; so he decided he could slip away for just a few minutes without her even noticing.
45 minutes later
He was wrong. As he tapped the Prime Minister on the shoulder asking to cut in to the dance, Clarisse looked less than pleased with her husband.
The smile never left her face; however, her tone indicated that she was very angry. “I certainly hope you have a very good explanation, Joseph. I was put in a very difficult position trying to explain where you had gone off to for so long.”
He tried one of his heart warming smiles on her, “I am sorry, my dear…business called.”
The smile did not work. “I, Joseph, was your business tonight.”
He tried a different approach. “I am sorry, Clarisse. I need to talk to you, though, as soon as this is over. There are things that I must ask you.”
“Right now, Joseph, the only thing you should be asking for is my forgiveness.” She seemed more hurt now than angry yet she still smiled for the onlookers watching them twirling around the dance floor.
He pulled her closer and she leaned into his embrace as they swayed. He whispered into her ear, “I am truly sorry, my dear. You are right…I should not have left. I do hope once we get back to the suite and I have an opportunity to adequately explain myself, you will understand and forgive me. Please agree to hold any more anger until later tonight.”
Against her better judgment, she allowed herself to melt into his embrace for a few moments. Finally pulling back to a respectable distance, she gave him a real smile. “Very well, sir, you have bought yourself a temporary pardon. I expect a full explanation along with some serious making up when you are finished.”
He twirled her around in time to the music and then pulled her close as the music started to end. He whispered for her hearing only, “making up or making out, my love?” Before she could respond, he answered, “I promise both!” They took their bows to the clapping they heard as they finished the dance. He was always amazed at how well they moved together on the dance floor. Irregardless of the circumstances going on in their lives or thoughts running through their heads, they still moved flawlessly as one entity rather than two individuals. He kissed her hand and led her off the dance floor.
The rest of the evening passed uneventfully with Joseph and Clarisse dutifully dancing with dignitaries and members of Parliament. The last dance was reserved for Joseph and Mia and Clarisse and Nicholas. While not as graceful a partner as Clarisse, Mia had come a long way in the short time she had been learning to ballroom dance. Joseph complimented her as they were about half way through the dance, “You are doing a fantastic job, your highness.”
“Thanks, Joe. My feet are killing me, though. I’m glad this is the last dance I’m getting tired. By the way, is everything ok between you and Grandma? You were gone for a while tonight and she didn’t seem too happy with you when you got back.”
Joseph smiled at the amazing way that Mia didn’t seem to require a breath when speaking. “Everything is fine, Mia, nothing to worry about. She was very relieved, by the way, that you returned her shoes. She wanted to wear them tonight.”
Mia laughed, “So you didn’t find them, did you?”
He chuckled in response to her, “No; but, you knew that already. I would love to know, however, where you hid them.”
Mia shrugged her shoulders, “That’s easy with Charlotte.”
It took all of Joe’s training not to stop dancing, “You gave them to Charlotte? What did you tell her?” He was highly concerned that Mia told her where she found the shoes. Giving his history with Charlotte in the greenhouse, he was concerned about this chain of events.
“Relax, Joe. It’s all good. I just asked her to have them cleaned for Grandma so she could wear them tonight. I asked her to return them to me and not say anything as I wanted it to be a surprise.”
She felt him relax, “Thank you, Princess. Your Grandmother and I appreciate your discretion with regards to this matter.”
“No big deal that’s what family is for, right? To cover for one another while still teasing them mercilessly.”
“I suppose you are right. I shall pass your sentiments along to your Grandmother. Mia?”
“Please do me a favor, will you?”
“Promise me you’ll stay close to Shades and Lionel over the next few days. There are going to be a lot of people clamoring to get a glimpse of or touch the new Queen. Also, there are still some small factions that will not be pleased to see another Renaldi take the throne, so you must be very careful and always listen to what your security tells you. Promise?”
Mia stopped as the music ended, “Joe, you’re kind of freakin’ me out here. Do you think someone will try to hurt me? I thought we were past all of this after the wedding stuff blew over.”
He gave her a kiss on the cheek, “I’m sorry, your highness. I was merely trying to stress the importance of listening to your bodyguard to ensure your safety.”
She wasn’t sure she bought his explanation entirely, but decided to let it go for the moment. She had the utmost confidence in Shades and Lionel and knew Joseph would be there always to protect her and her Grandma. “Ok, Joe, but no more talk like that, alright?”
“Agreed. Now go get Nicholas and you two say your goodnights. I’m taking your Grandmother to our room for some rest as well.”
They bid their goodnights to all of the guests and retired to their suites for what was left of the evening.
Once back in the suite, Joseph and Clarisse changed into their night clothes, crawled into bed and snuggled into each other’s arms.
Clarisse spoke first, “So, do you want to tell me where you went tonight?”
“I’d like to ask you a question first, if you don’t mind? It may help me explain what I was doing.”
“Alright, you may go first just as long as I get my turn.”
He smiled at the possible double entendre, but decided to let it pass as he really did want to get this information and had been distracted numerous times by her no, their desires. This time he needed to get his answers.
He turned towards her; he wanted to watch her face so he could gauge her response and know if he had gone too far. He knew this could be painful for her, but felt it was important that he learned what had happened that day.
“My dear, earlier today, I took a bit of a nap after searching for your shoes and I had a flashback of sorts in a dream. It took me back to the day that Philippe died.” He waited to see her response.
“Oh Joseph must we talk about this now? This is such a happy time I really don’t want to dredge up old, unhappy memories. Not tonight, please?”
He knew that she would not want to discuss this; but, he really needed answers. He put his arm around her and pulled her even closer, gently stroking her cheek to find a tear escaping down her cheek. “My love, I’m sorry. We’ll not rehash the whole thing, but I do need one piece of information that I missed on that day. Please, Clarisse, it is important.”
“Very well,” she sighed, “What do you want to know?”
“On that day, Prince Philippe whispered something in your ear before he left and handed you a piece of paper or something similar. I need to know what he said and what was on that paper?”
Clarisse closed her eyes to the painful memories Joseph was asking her to allow to surface. Memories she had buried deep within her psyche long ago. She was about to refuse his question when she remembered words they had exchanged in the last couple of days. Words where he had asked her to share her burdens with him to show him all of her to let him love her. She opened her eyes, finally, and spoke, “The paper was a combination to a safe that was in a hidden area in his suite. He whispered to me that I should only open it and review the contents should anything ever happen to him. I don’t believe that either of us thought that it would be that very day that something so terrible would occur. It took me several weeks before I even remembered the paper and was able to bring myself to go to his suite to open the safe and review the contents.”
In the past 6 weeks after Prince Philippe’s death
She had opened the bureau drawer looking for a piece of paper to write a note on for her ladies’ maids when she saw the paper that Philippe had handed her that fateful day. She pulled it out of the drawer and made her way over to his suite. As it was late at night, only the guards standing watch near his door saw her enter. She had ordered that no one was to go into the rooms until she was ready. She wanted time to grieve and then go through things herself before anyone else tried to take care of his personal effects.
She was startled by the sight that met her. It appeared that someone had trashed his room. Drawers were open, pillows overturned and ripped, and papers strewn all over the floor. She went to the hidden area at the back of his closet to enter the combination and reveal the contents of the safe. From everything she could tell, this area behind the secret panel had remained untouched. Whoever had done this had not known about this hidden area. Breathing a sigh of relief and exhaling some of her nervousness, she entered in the codes and opened the door.
Among many documents, which she vowed to go through at a later time, was the diary that Philippe had obtained for his daughter. It didn’t have a lock…Clarisse assumed that he had either not had time to have one made yet or didn’t understand the privacy that a young girl required for her diary. As the tears spilled onto the diary as she grieved her son, she caught a glimpse of the heart shaped necklace that hung around her neck and an idea occurred to her. She would have a lock made that could only be opened with her locket the locket that she would give to Mia as a gift the next time she saw her. That way, the gift could be from both her and Philippe. She grabbed the letter that was addressed to Mia and had been sealed (apparently he did value privacy at least for himself) and the diary and vowed she would come back later to finish reviewing the documents. She now had the important task of getting a lock created for the diary in time for Mia’s birthday.
With that, she closed the safe and headed back to her room with her treasures noting that she would have someone come clean up this mess the very next day.
“Joseph, I never went back. It was shortly after that we left for San Francisco to meet with Mia. I’m assuming it’s still there with all the original documents still safe and sound.”
Taking it all in, Joseph started to slowly make a little sense of what he was hearing and had learned. It was still too early, however, to jump to any conclusions. “With your permission, Clarisse…your majesty…I would like to try to retrieve that information tomorrow, if time permits.”
“I’m not sure if there’s anything in there of much relevance I think he wanted to be sure Mia got the letter and diary, but if you feel it’s important, then permission granted. Now is it my turn?”
“Yes, dear.” With that, Joseph returned to his back with Clarisse tucked nicely in the cradle of his arm as he readied himself to explain his vanishing for over half an hour this evening.